Burglars and poachers target Thyspunt proposed nuclear site

Breaking…By Bev Mortimer

Scores of burglaries plus poaching incidents on Eskom’s conservation area across the road from Sea Vista in St Francis Bay led to farmers asking Eskom to erect protective fencing to keep intruders out and to save their lives, their livestock homes and those of the wildlife in the conservation area.

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Photo by Bev Mortimer of the ‘fish kraal’ area along the Thyspunt site coastline.

This has been revealed after St Francis Chronicle investigated why ugly fencing had been erected on the R330 Road to Cape St Francis.

The Eskom owned land and conservation area extends east and southwards to the sea and as far as Oyster Bay. It incorporates the tiny hamlets of Rebelsrus and Mostertshoek.  

Our investigation followed the publication in newspapers and on social media of critics complaints that implied construction was already starting on the Thyspunt site and there were presumptions that this was why the area was being fenced off. “So the nuclear station construction is underway. Never mind legal requirements, local community,” one person complained in a letter. “How do we stop them? This arrogance and contempt for due process is unacceptable.”

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The protective fence being erected around Eskom’s conservation area.

Photo: Richard Arderene

Our investigation discovered that farmers homes in the Rebelsrus and Mostertshoek area and other residential homes in the vicinity of  Theyspunt were broken into as many as 6 each times before the game fencing went up. Chairman of the Rebelrus Homeowners Association, Warwick Sauer, says they stopped some guys for carrying beds from a house. The culprits said they had been paid R70 to break into houses and leave the furniture in the bushes for others to collect!

“Before the fencing there were break-ins every fortnight for 16 months. Plus there was lots of poaching going on – the area is teeming with bush buck, bush pigs and other game – there are even leopards here,” Sauer said, adding that since the fence was erect4ed things were quiet and farmers could sleep peacefully again at night.. “We eventually had enough of these bad incidents and contacted Eskom to ask them to protect their land with a security fencing.”

Eskom, he said, agreed to this as it would protect  the farmers lives and property, plus the fauna and flora in the conservation area. Moreover, in the event of a Thyspunt nuclear plant becoming a reality, a security fence would have to be erected.

 “They said they could not put up two fences one now and another maybe in the future,” Sauer related.  So they decided on one security fence which would protect the farmers, their livestock, homes and the fauna.”

About 40 farmers belonging to the two associations in the area wanted the fencing. There are more than 70 farmers in the area.

The Eskom source told St Francis Chronicle that after the dreadful 2012 fires in St Francis Bay that destroyed 76 canal homes, landowners in the region were asked to try to get rid of alien vegetation which was contributing to the fire hazard. Eskom removed the alien vegetation from the eastern side of the Thyspunt site, which they would have done anyway as part of their nature conservation efforts.

The resulting bush thinning immediately led to an increase in the number of trespassers coming onto the Thyspunt property, because the existing cattle fence that had always been there was easy to cross.  This led to a number of burglaries on other properties where it appeared burglars had crossed the Eskom land.  Property owners asked Eskom to improve the security of the fence.  At the time some barbed wire was added to the fence, as a rapid response security measure.

Meantime, there were almost daily occurrence of cattle and other animals breaking through the fence, because the old fence was corroded and degraded in places.

Furthermore, the Thyspunt environmental team recently found other animal snares.  As natural wildlife increases, such as wild buck species they are becoming an attractive target for poachers.

“The Eskom people then held a meeting with local property owners and as a result decided to replace much of the old fence with a good quality new fence.’ 

The Eskom source says an EIA was unnecessary for an environmental authorisation. The Green Scorpions unit that falls under the department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs inspected the new fence and found that it served the purpose for which a fence had originally been designed. These Scorpions monitor the environment and investigate environmental crimes such as illegal dumping of waste, illegal deep-sea fishing, smuggling ivory, and illegal property development.

Eskom started buying property and farms to form the Thyspunt site from 1989. The conservation areas will be preserved and protected regardless of whether Thyspunt is chosen as the next nuclear site, the Eskom source says. If it isn’t, Eskom may resell the land and farms or keep them as conservation areas.

Sauer however, reveals that Eskom has decided to create a massive conservation area. He envisaged that it could be used to protect plenty of game and fauna and that in the future this area could become a private or national game farm.

Sauer also stressed the importance of finishing the fencing as it is incomplete. “Ideally we would like to see the fencing going all the way to Rocky Coast farm to prevent any more thieves and poachers gaining access.”

Sauer pointed out all the farmers were not necessarily pro nuclear. They were all pragmatic, however, and needed to protect their lives, their livestock and the wildlife. It was good that Eskom was working together with them to ensure this was done.

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